'The Costs of COVID-19' Part 4: 'Unseen' impact on children

NOW: ’The Costs of COVID-19’ Part 4: ’Unseen’ impact on children

Throughout the month of November, ABC57 Investigates is introducing a new series called ‘The Costs of COVID-19’. Part 4 focused on the ‘unseen costs’ in children, including the toll on youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Uncertainty really underlies anxiety, which is normal,” Psychologist Mary Alvord said. “And the more you can tolerate uncertainty, the better you are.”

Alvord has been a licensed psychologist for more than 40 years, working directly with local children and families.

While children might respond better to coronavirus physically compared to adults, Alvord said they are still seeing increased mental health issues.

The issues started with children who worry about older people in their families, such as grandma and grandpa, according to Alvord.

“Anxiety was like, ‘what about my grandparents?’ Are they going to die? Are they going to get sick,” Alvord said.

As time went on, the dynamic changed, according to Alvord.

“Oh, it’s not just our grandparents,” Alvord said. “It could be our parents. It could even be us.”

It is not just a fear of death, between parents working from home and children learning from home—and all the changes that come with it, it is also a fear of uncertainty.

“And the younger they are, the less they truly understand and the more there’s room for misinterpretation,” Alvord said. “We know from previous research that often parents are not aware of how much their own stress really impacts their children.”

Alvord said if families are not openly talking about hardships at home, that leaves their children guessing.

“And I’m not implying that parents should share all the details of the difficulties,” Alvord explained. But if they are struggling, they need to know what the kids know—that these are challenging times.”

One way Alvord believes children could feel more comfortable is if guardians spend more time together as a family and pay attention to how everyone is coping with the pandemic together.

“And that’s sort of looking at yourself and your lifestyle, how are you coping? Because if parents cope better, they’re actually modeling for their kids how to cope better,” Alvord said. “It’s not just what we say, it’s really more what we do.”

Sadly, not all of Michiana’s children can rely on their families for support.

“There’s definitely been a heightened need for kids who are needing high end care,” Chief Operating Officer at Bashor Children’s Home Sean McCrindle said.

McCrindle said at Bashor Children’s Home, a non-profit child welfare agency, the agency has seen more and more children in need of residential care during the pandemic.

“This is one of the most dangerous times because there aren’t people watching as much as they used to, there aren’t as many connections,” McCrindle said. “And so things can stay behind the scenes much more. So while we haven’t seen a huge increase on some of the front end services, we have on the higher end services and expect to see that continue for the next several months.”

That increase can be contributed to a lot of places closing their doors or providing limited support during the pandemic, according to McCrindle.

Experts said when it comes to the pandemic, many people have to overcome the ‘retraumatization’ that comes with it. The situation, however, is more difficult with children because many times children cannot fully comprehend how they feel, according to McCrindle.

“And it won’t be until later that they start to have more significant issues related to it,” McCrindle said.

“This is going to impact kids. I think we will move beyond this because we have a will to do everything we can to help these kids, but it’s not going to be easy,” Elkhart County Juvenile Magistrate Deborah Domine said. “I’m looking out on the other side.”

Deborah Domine has been an Elkhart County Magistrate in the Juvenile Division for nearly 20 years now, hearing all juvenile cases.

“So I address needs of children on a daily basis,” Domine explained. “They’ve all suffered trauma and they’re all acting out in one way or another.”

There has been no increase in juvenile crime and no big uptick in the number of abuse and neglect cases, according to Domine.

“I’m not surprised that there’s not an increase in crime because I do think people are staying home,” Domine said.

There has not been an increase in runaways either, according to Domine.

“I do think people are scared,” Domine said. “I am surprised that we are not seeing an increase in abuse and neglect cases.”

Domine hopes that as Michiana moves past the coronavirus pandemic, people and officials can concentrate efforts on helping the children still affected.

“I think we’re all learning as we go,” Domine said. “I can’t propose a solution, all that I can propose we try anything and everything that might work because these kids needs are waiting.”

It is too early to diagnose any permanent problems left behind after this pandemic, according to experts.

“We don’t know how this period of time is going to impact the children that are growing up through it, but we do know that anything that impacts kids during their formative years will have a long-lasting impact,” Bashor Children’s Home Senior Program Director Michael Deranek said.

Experts all agreed that people should not be shy about needing help.

“Because helping and getting help also makes us more resilient, you know, as well as being optimistic and knowing that this is not going to go on forever,” Alvord said. “It’s much longer than we would have liked, but it’s not forever.”

“Even if you’re struggling a little bit through it, as most people are, that’s a normal response to really abnormal circumstances and it’s okay to reach of and it’s okay to get help,” Deranek said.  “It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.”

For more information, see the below resources:

Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

Anxiety and Depression Association of America 

American Psychological Assocation

APA Psychology Help Center

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